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Why Your Photo Looks Different on the Web than on Your Desktop

This entry was posted By Cubert on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 4:38 pm and is filed under Digital Photos. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Do you take photos with the intention of uploading them to the web? If you own a computer and a camera, the answer is probably yes. Amateur photography seems to be one of the top hobbies found in online culture, and there are many services to support this hobby, from photo sharing sites like flickr, to micro-stock photo sites such as istock. However, with the countless number of amateur photographers submitting their photos online, there are bound to be some issues.

Recently, in our own stock photo resource, stockedphotos.com, we reviewed a photo set where the photos looked one way when viewed on our desktops (using Microsoft Picture Viewer), but did not retain their vivid, bright colors and effects when viewed online or in a web browser.

Below is an example of this discrepancy:



As you can clearly see, the image on top is much more colorful than the image on the bottom, and the image on the bottom is very muted and dull by comparison. However, if you were to save these files to your computer and view them side by side in a picture viewer, you would see that the images actually appear identical, and there is no variance in hue, luminance, or saturation.

Keep in mind, that in this instance, the above image was not produced as a result of an amateur photo shoot. This series was shot by a seasoned professional photographer, recognized by name, and with years of experience in the industry. So what issue could be having such a large impact, destroying the luster of images found across the web, shot by amateur and professional photographer alike, and if the photos look identical offline, what is making the photos look different from when viewed in a web browser?

The answer? Color space.

The technical definition of color space is “A three-dimensional coordinate system, where coordinates in that system represent colors.” To you, me, and the bees, this might not mean much, but the important thing to know is that when you save a digital photo, a color space, or color profile is always set for that image, whether you are aware of it or now.

In this situation, the image on top was saved using what I consider to be the standard sRGB color space, while the image on the bottom was saved in Adobe 1998 (or Adobe RGB) color space.

So what’s the difference between the two color spaces, and why does it matter for your photos? Well, in theoryu87, Adobe 1998 colorspace was designed to provide a wider range of colors for print, more similar to CMYK, however when viewed on a computer monitor, it basically converts to RGB, and actually displays a lower range of colors than what you see with sRGB, and in short, Adobe 1998 working space makes your colors look bad on the web.

If you want further education on the topic, then I suggest reading Ken Rockwell’s sRGB vs Adobe RGB or sRGB vs Adobe RGB 1998 on cambridgeincolor.com.

My interpretation of the information is that Adobe RGB “may” provide some slight benefits in printing certain specific colors for true color Nazis that have a lot of expertise in color management, but for the rest of us, you will never see an appreciable difference in anything you print. I might also add, that if your main concern in a photo is how it looks in print, you should just covert the image to CMYK format, which is a format that is truly intended for consistency in printing.

So how do you get your photos look the same on the web as they do on your desktop? Simple, if your image is in the Adobe 1998 working space, just convert it to reliable old sRGB.

Just open up your image in Adobe Photoshop:



From the tool menu, click on edit > Convert to Profile…



When the pop-up window appears, confirm that the current Source Space is listed as Adobe RGB 1998 (or anything other than sRGB). Then, in the Destination Space location, select sRGB IEC61966-2.1 in the profile field, and click ok.



Presto – your photo is now saved in sRGB colorspace and will now look exactly the same online as it does on your desktop!

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